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6 Stand-Out Series In Today’s ‘Peak TV’ Barrage

Despite the onslaught of terrible shows over the past year, these six series from 2022 stand out for defying genre conventions.

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Over the past decade, the term “peak TV” has become shorthand for an ever-increasing barrage of TV series being produced. Variety reported last week that 2022 tallied a total of 2,024 original shows released. That figure is finally expected to decline this year, as all filmed entertainment companies face pressure to cut costs and maximize profits. 

With corporations spending billions to produce TV shows, is there anything good on? Many of those 2,000-plus shows are cheap reality fare, forgettable Netflix dramas, or network bombs no one saw. Yet Hollywood has also placed big bets on rebooting legacy franchises, with varied results. 

Last year, “Star Trek Picard” descended into a boring mess of conflicting plots with a heavy dose of LGBT sexuality — wasting acting legend Patrick Stewart and the return of fan-favorite antagonist “Q.” Multiple “Walking Dead” shows had even the most enthusiastic zombie fans wishing the series would die. Viewers also panned Disney’s spin-offs of “National Treasure” and “Willow” for focusing too much on leftist politics. 

But some original concepts surfaced, particularly a few like “The Chosen” (latest season still airing) and “Bluey,” produced far afield from the Hollywood machine. In diverse genres stretching from sci-fi to legal drama to adaptations of true events, standout series have more than jaw-dropping visuals and sharp editing. Their believable characters with relatable struggles keep viewers coming back.

These six series from 2022 stand out for defying genre conventions while giving audiences substantive themes and questions to ponder after the credits roll.

1. ‘Andor’ (TV-14, Disney Plus) 

With audiences migrating from theaters to streaming, filmmakers have followed suit and brought cinematic depth to such prestige series as Peter Morgan’s meticulous “The Crown” and Jonathan Nolan’s “Person of Interest.” No one expected the Star Wars franchise to go that route, but Lucasfilm’s gamble on writer-producer Tony Gilroy (“The Bourne Legacy”) paid off. 

In a fictional universe usually defined by space wizards and ancient prophecies, serialized drama “Andor” grounds the story in street-level characters driven to survive and make their mark. Gradually peeling back layers of a rising authoritarian regime — from hardscrabble engineers losing liberties to military security taking over politics — it has a lot to say about the value of individual freedom and how apathy toward abuses of power can cause that freedom to erode. 

2. ‘The Lincoln Lawyer‘ (TV-MA, Netflix) 

Based on the best-selling novels by Michael Connelly, the series follows the riveting story of Los Angeles lawyer Mickey Haller. With the panache of legal procedural guru David E. Kelley (“The Practice”) as executive producer, “The Lincoln Lawyer” draws viewers in with an intriguing premise and magnetic chemistry of eclectic leads including Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (“6 Underground”), Neve Campbell (“Clouds”), and Ntare Mwine (“Blood Diamond”).

“The Lincoln Lawyer” begins when Haller gets into a car accident and becomes sidelined by a subsequent painkiller addiction. He’s drawn back into law by the unexplained death of his attorney friend who wills Haller his practice, subject to a judge’s approval. In addition to several pro-bono cases — which showcase Haller working out of the back of his Lincoln town car — his representation of a Big Tech mogul offers commentary on current issues. 

3. ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’ (TV-14, Prime Video)

Among those who love the works and worlds of fantasy author J.R.R. Tolkien, it’s surely the year’s most polarizing series. With a whopping $700 million budget for eight episodes, no one denies “The Rings of Power” is visually stunning. Weta Digital reprises its role from the film trilogy in creating key VFX-heavy scenes and armies clad in forged armor for realism. 

Set in the Second Age of Middle-earth, thousands of years prior to Frodo and the Fellowship’s quest, it’s a period only scantly covered in Tolkien’s fictional works. Ergo, a few faithful scholars of Middle-earth can’t forgive early episodes presenting Galadriel as headstrong and even vengeful, while others view that plotline as part of a seasons-long character arc. 

Other deviations from Tolkien’s lore, such as a subplot about mithril’s healing properties for elves, may yet be explained as an antagonist’s scheme; and storytelling choices like the mystery-box focus on Sauron’s identity come off as hokey. Still, Middle-earth is depicted with sincerity, as lines like, “Despise not the labor that humbles the heart” — and the friendship of Elrond and dwarven lord Durin — reflect virtues at the source. With season two currently in production, the series has many pursuing the worthy quest of re-reading Tolkien’s legendarium.

4. ‘The Dropout‘ (TV-MA, Hulu)

Although the limited-series retelling of Elizabeth Holmes’ medical tech long-con has received many positive reviews, the highest praise for the show comes from another actress. Jennifer Lawrence was slated to star as Holmes in a film version — but backed out after seeing Amanda Seyfried’s performance. “I was like, ‘Yeah, we don’t need to redo that.’ She did it,” said Lawrence.

A portrait of narcissism centered on the self-styled female version of Steve Jobs, “The Dropout” has double meaning: Holmes (Amanda Seyfried) dropped out of college, supposedly to finalize her revolutionary droplet blood test that turned out to be a hoax. Along the way, her self-confidence fooled Larry Ellison, Henry Kissinger, Jim Mattis, and dozens of other power players who invested. 

While it covers personal aspects of the story, including a few easy-to-skip (and unnecessary) steamy scenes, her careful deception and ultimate exposure make “The Dropout” so bingeable. Nominated for six Emmys and winner for Seyfried as Lead Actress, this series arrived just prior to real-life Holmes being charged with four counts of fraud and sentenced to 11 years in prison. 

5. ‘Bluey‘ (TV-G, Disney Plus)

If your preschooler lost it during Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, there’s a good chance it’s because he caught the balloon float of a smiling blue-heeler dog. This appearance marked another milestone for “Bluey,” an animated show produced by a few dozen people in Brisbane, Australia. Perhaps even more impressive than its rise to fame, the show is written entirely by one dad, Joe Brumm, based on the experiences he and his wife have while playing with their two daughters. 

Kids see themselves in every seven-minute episode of “Bluey,” as a new game or scenario plays out with discovery and laughs. Parents also relate, as the dad and mum strive to keep up with rambunctious kids — and occasionally fail. Rejecting the usual repetitive music cues of children’s TV, composer Joff Bush delivers new work for every episode, often riffing on classical standards. Praised widely by diverse voices, it’s a rare delight and TV landmark.

6. ‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds‘ (TV-PG, Paramount Plus)

Recent efforts to recapture Gene Roddenberry’s positive (though invariably humanist) view of the future have been spotty. Longtime Trekkies have bailed on sexuality-and-politics-focused “Discovery” — cue eye roll at Stacey Abrams’ cameo — and have little hope for “Picard” season three, even with nearly all “The Next Generation” cast members reuniting

But the fan buzz around “Strange New Worlds,” both a prequel to and reboot of the original James T. Kirk five-year mission, has been impossible to avoid. Capt. Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) helms a fresh-faced crew of Spock and Uhura, alongside some unfamiliar characters, ditching the recently in-vogue serialized format for alien-of-the-week close encounters. 

The various personalities shine in this teamwork-focused drama. While the sci-fi concepts aren’t as intellectually bold or morally grounded as during Roddenberry’s tenure, it’s a welcome throwback with few content concerns for family viewing. 


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